‘Why Do the Nations Rage? The Demonic Origin of Nationalism’ by David Ritchie Book Review

Why Do the Nations Rage?: The Demonic Origin of Nationalism by David A. Ritchie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“It is crucial for Christians to clearly recognize the distinction between rightly ordered patriotism and idolatrous nationalism; to recognize the difference between gratitude to God for one’s nation and the temptation to worship one’s nation as a god. None of us are above this temptation. Sadly, the people of God have had a long history of looking to political power for salvation. We have a long history of crying out the name of insurrectionist ‘Barrabus!’ instead of the name of the Prince of Peace, who alone has the power to make all things new. The powers are real, and they are greedy for our affection. Yet the exhortation of Joshua 24 still applies to the people of God today. We must put away the gods of our fathers and the gods of the nations. We must choose this day who we will serve” (142).

This book is deeply relevant, contextual, and a must read for the perilous time in which we live in the United States. Ritchie asks the question ALL people who call themselves Christians need to ask: who do we serve/pledge our allegiance? Christ? Or the United States?

‘Why do the Nations Rage? The Demonic Origin of Nationalism’ by David Ritchie is a contextual and relevant unpacking of the idolatrous and demonic power of nationalism, particularly in how it has co-opted a façade of Christianity to justify itself. Ritchie shows that christian nationalism is a paradoxical identity because “nationalism involves the exaltation of a nation (or a particular conception of a nation) to the highest place of allegiance, concern, and devotion, [thus] it is essentially idolatrous” (6). Nationalism cannot be Christian because it is inherently idolatrous. Furthermore, Ritchie shows that while the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot is a contemporary manifestation of nationalism, nationalism has ancient roots and is generally demonic: “when examined through the lens of biblically demonology, you will discover that there is little distinction between the ancient pagan’s worship of national patron deity and the contemporary nationalist’s tendency to exalt a particular nation to a place of functional divinity” (6). As a result, Ritchie argues that “nationalism-not atheism, not new age spiritualism, nor any other traditional world faith-is the greatest religious rival to the Christian gospel that vies for the worship of [God’s] people….seek[ing] to conquer Christianity, or…to co-opt Christianity for its own purposes” (6).

Ritchie accomplishes this goal through five sections in this book.

The first section carefully describes how the New Testament writings of Paul use the terms ‘powers,’ ‘principalities,’ ‘authorities,’ and other terms to describe “spiritual beings that are personal in nature and exert corporate influence over groups of people….and geographical territories” (9), including ‘nations.’

Ritchie then summarizes these demonic ‘spiritual beings’ under the umbrella term ‘powers’ and explains how these ‘powers’ were the reason why the God of the Old Testament/New Testament condemned ‘pagan nations’ and ‘national patron deities’ in the second section.

In the third section, Ritchie shows that Christ has defeated all demonic forces of evil through his life, death, and resurrection. Thus, Christ has not only defeated our reliance upon the ‘powers,’ but has commanded us to resist these powers. Christians cannot simply ignore or turn a blind eye to the idolatry of nationalism, but we must name, denounce, and resist the evils of nationalism through primacy of devotion to Christ and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.

In order to accurately name the evils of nationalism today, so that Christians can denounce and resist them, section four describes how nationalism has co-opted a façade of Christianity and created a systematic theology of nationalism” (93). In short, this theology of nationalism primarily “stands against the first commandment and the Christian understanding of God as the one to whom highest praise and devotion belongs…[through] the belief that ‘loyalty to the nation overrides all other loyalties'” (95). Some modern examples include the symbols of “Columbia (or Freedom) as the patron goddess of the United States….flags function[ing] beyond a mere identifying symbol of a nation, and instead having been imbued with sacred significance and accorded ritualistic worship”(97), the pledge of allegiance in schools, national art that uses Christian imagery, ascribing messianic characteristics to politicians, manifest destiny, and ascribing ‘right Christian belief’ to stances, beliefs, and platforms of politicians or political parties. As Ritchie explains, “the term ‘Christian nationalist’ is just as oxymoronic as ‘Yahwist Baal worshiper.’ When Christianity mixes with nationalism, the sum of this syncretism yields only nationalism….For this reason, Christians must have no part in nationalism” (122).

In the fifth and final section, Ritchie provides tangible ways for Christians to resist the demonic powers of nationalism. First, ministry leaders must confront nationalism head-on in their ecclesial spaces (125). Ritchie provides very practical and tangible Christ-centered responses to the pitfalls and lies of nationalism. This was my favorite section of the book and I’d recommend snagging yourself a copy if just for this section alone (although I think all five sections are incredible and a must read)!

Right before the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the rioters stood with defamed Christian images and ‘prayers’ were lifted. I agree with Ritchie when he states, “I felt grieved that images of the name of my Savior were displayed alongside this spectacle of nihilistic division and death” (4). This book, and the commandments from Christ articulated throughout this book, are the urgent call to Christians across our nation, and across the globe, to resist the demonic powers of nationalism and to once again devote our hearts, minds, and actions fully to Christ. Amen!

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